Popular search terms indicate that consumer interest in rentals is growing, according to a webinar presentation by Web metrics firm Experian Hitwise.

The firm’s data indicates that despite recent upticks in home sales, real estate-related searches fell 22 percent year-over-year in April — the 11th straight month of year-over-year declines, the firm said.

For the past 10 months, however, searches related to rentals have been increasing. In a custom real estate website category for rentals (excluding vacation rentals), searches climbed 45 percent year-over-year in April, the firm said. Heather Dougherty, the company’s director of research, gave the presentation.

"The rental market for houses and apartments is benefiting as a result of tightened credit markets and increased foreclosures as a housing option," Dougherty said in a blog post.

Search terms also indicate rentals are gaining in popularity among those interested in real estate. When branded search words (ie. "zillow", "remax," etc.) were filtered out, the top five search terms in this category were: 1. apartments for rent, 2. foreclosed homes for sale, 3. rental homes, 4. houses for sale, and 5. apartment finder.

"Houses for rent" surpassed "houses for sale" in early May. At the same time, searches for "mortgage calculator" fell 41 percent year-over-year.

"Apartments for rent" rose 162 percent in the four weeks before May 8.

Hitwise’ April traffic report showed that brokerages and websites featuring apartment rentals have risen in the ranks of the top 20 most-trafficked real estate sites. Rentals.com got the most home and apartment rental search traffic (12.5 percent ), followed by ApartmentFinder.com (7.3 percent).

Traffic to rental websites has risen in areas where home values have fallen, especially if the drop was more than 1 percent, the firm said. Visits to rental sites in Atlanta, for example, rose 1.6 percent between May 2008 and May 2010.

The top five most popular real estate aggregators and portals captured about 70 percent of traffic in that category in April, the firm said. These included Realtor.com (25 percent), Zillow (13.9 percent), Yahoo Real Estate (13.7 percent), ZipRealty (9.1 percent), and Trulia (8.9 percent). All but ZipRealty include rental listings among their offerings.

Visits to consumer multiple listing service sites have dropped. About a third of visitors to these sites come from California, Texas and New Jersey. The visitors also tend to be older and somewhat affluent with incomes between $60,000 and $150,000.

"The most affluent folks may be afraid of this real estate market," Dougherty said.

Among sites in the real estate category, rental sites had higher shares of paid clicks, the firm said. Rent.com, for example, paid for 14.25 percent of its clicks, Dougherty said. Another site, ForeSaleByOwner.com, paid for 21 percent of its clicks, she said.

"It gives you an idea of their strategy. You might want to check what your competitors are doing," she said.

Consumers’ real estate-related searches such as "fannie mae foreclosures," "what is a short sale," and "buying a house with bad credit" also indicate they are interested in distressed properties and housing options for those with poor credit histories, the firm said.

Real estate professionals would do well to create content for these consumers, Dougherty said.


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